Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Assault on Reason

"America's secession from objective reality."    When I read them, those words seared into my mind.  That is, indeed, the path the American people have been on virtually since the US Supreme Court threw the 2000 elections to George w. Bush.

The phrase was crafted by the Miami Herald's Leonard Pitts Jr. in an op-ed he wrote about of all people, FOX News chairman Roger Ailes.   There's a lot of speculation that Ailes may be in trouble for allegedly counselling former publishing whiz Judith Regan to lie to federal investigators vetting former New York Police commissioner Bernard Kerik.  He was Bush's pick to become Homeland Security director and Ailes, apparently, wanted Regan to dummy up about her affair with Kerik which, apparently, she did.

What gets under Pitts' skin is one Barry Ritholtz, a financial analyst, author and TV commentator who, on his blog, is said to have reported that Ailes is to be indicted over the Regan business.   When pressed for a source, Ritholtz said he heard it from an older man, an "upper East Side Democrat" he ran into at an airport.   When pushed Ritholtz further he glibly replied,  “If it’s true we’ll find out. If it’s not, no big deal.”

And here, let us define what the point is not. It is not the likeability or lack thereof, of Roger Ailes. It is not the bias of the supposed news organization he runs. It is not even the accuracy of Ritholtz’s report. It is, rather, those three words: “no big deal.”

Lord, where is Walter Cronkite when you need him?
 ...But: if we are all journalists, we all ought to be governed by journalism’s most sacred directive. Meaning accuracy. Get the facts straight.

...One encounters little fealty to that directive in surveying the landscape of new media, overrun as it is by true believers for whom accuracy is subordinate to ideology and facts useful only to the degree they can be bent, shaped or outright disregarded in service to that ideology. The result, as many have noted, is a political discourse distinguished by increasing incoherence and intellectual incontinence, an empty shouting match better suited to a fifth grade schoolyard than to adults analyzing the great issues of the day.
No big deal?

One can imagine a libel lawyer in the employ of Roger Ailes someday having a field day with that quote. Meantime, let the rest of us regard it as a signpost on the road toward America’s secession from objective reality. What is at stake is nothing less than our ability to know. From that springs our ability to process, extrapolate, debate, reason, conclude. We are losing those things.


crf said...

Ritholtz replies to that column here:

It's not a particularly well written defence of what he originally wrote, or criticism of Pitts's column, because he sidesteps the issue of sourcing, which what this obviously revolves around. (Although, he rightly notes that Pitt's column is attempting to hang a lot of meat on a thin skeleton of a story.)

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi CRF. Thanks for the link. I found it telling that, twice, Ritholtz accused Pitts of defending Roger Ailes when he did nothing of the sort. Nor was Pitts singling out Ritholtz as the subject of his critique. As I read it, Pitts was merely using Ritholtz as an example of a spreading contagion in media veracity today.

A few years back 60 Minutes interviewed the architect of Republican information strategy. This fellow quite candidly described how it worked. Start an idea as a "rumour." Through repetition of the rumour, massage that into "opinion." Once the opinion has been repeated sufficiently it evolves into fact. The process was mapped to a hierarchy - open line radio shows to cable network news to broadcast network news and, finally, to the mainstream sources like the NYT.

It has worked well enough to enable the Republicans to lie their countrymen into supporting wars of aggression, into turning on public service union workers and teachers, even into embracing tax cuts for the rich amidst pervasive debt and deficits.

That, I believe, is what Pitts was getting at.